The aura surrounding the late great Bob Fosse has become so intense that the Roundabout Theatre is planning to revive one of his weakest shows next season – “Dancin’.”
The all-dance 1978 piece had its fun moments, but it also showed how empty Fosse’s choreography tends to be outside the context of book shows such as “Chicago” and “Sweet Charity.”
Bob Fosse didn’t have the chance to direct many movies, but his batting average was awfully good — the director-choreographer received Oscar nominations for three of the five films he completed before he died in 1987 at the age of 60.
Fosse started working in movies in the late 1960s after establishing himself on Broadway with a series of hit musicals including “Damn Yankees” and “Sweet Charity.”
The stage director tried a little too hard to be “cinematic” in his first Hollywood outing, “Sweet Charity,” in 1969. The Shirley MacLaine vehicle suffers now from dated 1960s camera and editing gimmicks that keep throwing us out of the story.
The movie bombed at the box office, so it took Fosse another three years to get a film assignment.
“Cabaret” was shot on a tight budget in Germany, but the financial restrictions worked to the movie’s advantage. Audiences used to glossy, over-produced Hollywood musicals loved Fosse’s grittier approach and the fact that he cut all of the Broadway show’s numbers that took place outside of the decadent Berlin cabaret. The movie felt more “realistic” than any musical that had come before it.
Fosse grew up in show biz — he was a strip club hoofer and Hollywood dancer before he began working behind the scenes — but he always harbored deep reservations about his profession. As much as he loved to razzle-dazzle audiences, Fosse hated the weird mix of sentimentality and vulgarity in show business.
“Cabaret” was a smash that won a bunch of Oscars (including Fosse’s upset win over Francis Coppola for “The Godfather”). The movie gave Fosse the clout to make three blistering show biz dramas — “Lenny,” “All That Jazz” and “Star 80” — that moved song and dance to the sidelines in favor of exposing the crud behind the scenes in Hollywood and on Broadway.
No one has ever bit the hand that fed him with more style and more punch than Fosse. His final three films were bitter pills that went down semi-easy because they were so extraordinarily well made.
“Star 80” (above) is one of the toughest show biz movies, an unsparing look at the Playboy mystique and the pursuit of stardom that uses the sad life and death of playmate/actress Dorothy Stratten as its jumping off point.
Although the film was sold as Stratten’s story (and Mariel Hemingway got top billing in the role), “Star 80” spends more time on the murder victim’s hustler/pimp husband Paul Snider (Eric Roberts) who thought the blonde bombshell was his ticket to fame and fortune.
When Snider lost his wife to Playboy czar Hugh Hefner and film director Peter Bogdanovich (who starred Dorothy in “They All Laughed”), the man had an emotional meltdown and wound up blasting Stratten with a shotgun and then turning the weapon on himself.
“Star 80” was an assault on the culture that continues to pump out “American Idol” and Lindsay Lohan et al, and audiences were sickened by Fosse’s refusal to candycoat the show biz dream.
I talked to Fosse about “Star 80” a few years before he died — when he was working on a touring show that came to Connecticut — and he seemed genuinely shocked by my admiration of the uncompromising movie. He said the backlash was so strong that he wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to put together the financing for another film.
“Star 80″ deserves to be rediscovered as one of the few tough-minded studio financed dramas from an era that was dominated by the kiddie fantasies of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.